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Redshirting

I had a mom friend over yesterday who was telling me about this new phenomenon in affluent communities called reshirting, a term taken from high school sports. Though I played my share of high school sports, and though I have three children, and though Sunshine is in kindergarten, I had never heard of redshirting. Indeed, Sunshine is one of the oldest in her class (Dec. birthday) and there are no 7 year-olds in her kindergarten. In case you, too, don’t know what redshirting is, let me explain…. (it’s kind of creepy, so beware)

Basically, redshirting is the practice of delaying a child’s entry into Kindergarten so that they will be older, or larger, or more mature, and thus better prepared to handle the increased pressures of kindergarten today.

Here was my original take: In affluent communities, there is this winning combination of the money to send Suzy to an expensive preschool that teaches her more than I knew in 3rd grade back in my day, AND the desire/need for Suzy to be the #1 rope climber, reader, and spelling bee-er. So they hold Suzy back until she is more likely to succeed, and to win, win win!

But then I read this NY Times article, which explained a different (and fairer) reason behind redshirting:

No Child Left Behind, in 2002, exacerbated the trend, pushing phonics and pattern-recognition worksheets even further down the learning chain. As a result, many parents, legislatures and teachers find the current curriculum too challenging for many older 4- and young 5-year-olds, which makes sense, because it’s largely the same curriculum taught to first graders less than a generation ago.

That the social skills and exploration of one’s immediate world have been squeezed out of kindergarten is less the result of a pedagogical shift than of the accountability movement and the literal-minded reverse-engineering process it has brought to the schools. Curriculum planners no longer ask, What does a 5-year-old need? Instead they ask, If a student is to pass reading and math tests in third grade, what does that student need to be doing in the prior grades? Whether kindergarten students actually need to be older is a question of readiness, a concept that itself raises the question: Ready for what? The skill set required to succeed in Fulgham’s kindergarten — openness, creativity — is well matched to the capabilities of most 5-year-olds but also substantially different from what Andersen’s students need.

…increasing the average age of the children in a kindergarten class is a cheap and easy way to get a small bump in test scores, because older children perform better, and states’ desires for relative advantage is written into their policy briefs.

“You couldn’t find a kid who skips a grade these days,” Morrison told me. “We used to revere individual accomplishment. Now we revere self-esteem, and the reverence has snowballed in unconscious ways — into parents always wanting their children to feel good, wanting everything to be pleasant.” So parents wait an extra year in the hope that when their children enter school their age or maturity will shield them from social and emotional hurt. Elizabeth Levett Fortier, a kindergarten teacher in the George Peabody Elementary School in San Francisco, notices the impact on her incoming students. “I’ve had children come into my classroom, and they’ve never even lost at Candy Land.”

It’s sad, isn’t it. It’s sad that children are losing so much of their childhood, even in their school lessons. And it’s sad that parents are worrying about their children’s test scores at age 6.

An even more disturbing idea is that this trend could, and will, widen the gap between the affluent and the poor children even more than it already is. The affluent can afford to keep their children in preschool until they are five or six years old. Struggling, working parents, on the other hand, who may or may not have been able to send their children to preschool, are eagerly waiting for their tax dollars to take over and pay for their children’s education as soon as possible. Welcome to grade K, with Suzy at 6 and Bobby at 4.9; welcome to grade 6, with Suzy at 12 and Bobby at 10.9. That’s just not fair.

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